WA Supreme Court Made a Major Change to DUI Arrest Process

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The Clashing of Hailey’s Law and the WA State Constitution

In a recent unanimous decision from the Washington Supreme Court, Hailey’s law was ruled unconstitutional. Hailey’s Law required the mandatory impoundment of a car driven by someone arrested for DUI.

Passed by the state legislature in 2011, Hailey’s Law stemmed from an incident in 2007 where a person was arrested for a DUI. After the arrest, the person was released back to her car, drove, and severely injured another person. Hailey’s Law stripped officers of the discretion to decide whether to impound a person’s car after such an arrest, even if other passengers are present to take the car or if the car is parked safely off the roadway. Considering the costs associated with retrieving one’s car after impoundment, the law had a significant impact on those arrested for DUI.

In the case before the Court, Joel Villela challenged Hailey’s Law, arguing that impounding his car after arrest for DUI, without simply releasing the car to one of his passengers, violated his constitutional rights.

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Washington’s Constitution provides further privacy protections under Article 1 Section 7—the right to not be disturbed in one’s private affairs without authority of law.

The Court recognized that the impoundment of a car is an intrusion into one’s private affairs, and so the issue before the Court was whether authority of law justified the intrusion. The State relied on Hailey’s Law for providing the authority of law required. However, the Court noted that a statute can only provide such authority if it is consistent with constitutional protections.

Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice González emphasized that the legislature can’t legislate away constitutional protections.

The Court recognized that, under Article 1 Section 7, authority of law to impound a vehicle after the driver has been arrested exists where (1) there is probable cause that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime or (2) there is no reasonable alternative to impoundment. Since Hailey’s Law took away the discretion of an officer to consider reasonable alternatives to impoundment, the statute clearly violated constitutional protections.

So, what is the practical effect for those now arrested on suspicion of DUI?

Where an officer does not have probable cause to impound a car, the officer is required to make an individualized consideration of any reasonable alternatives to impoundment. Reasonable alternatives include whether a passenger is able to drive the car, or whether the car can be safely left where it is, to be picked up later. This means less costs imposed on many people arrested for DUI.

Bottom line—each case is unique and, without probable cause, an officer must first consider any reasonable alternatives before impounding a car driven by someone arrested for a DUI.